This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan used the term “the gaze” to describe the power relationship involved in one person looking at another. Lacan refers to the agency of the looker and the objectification of the human who is “gazed” upon. Pop singer Lady Gaga’s raw meat dress by Argentine designer Franc Fernandez comes from a tradition of meat wear (British artist Linder’s 1982 chicken meat dress, Jana Sterbak’s 1987 Vanitas sculpture, the list is rather long) that typically make a statement about the “male gaze.”
In her installation Memories of a Doomed Construction, artist Stephanie Liner has encapsulated entrancing women dressed in luxurious brocade to match the upholstered eggs that hold them captive to the Craft Alliance Gallery visitor’s gaze. Liner’s doll-like women do not elicit the disgust that inevitably comes from viewing a woman adorned by raw meat. They do, however, evoke a similar uncomfortable awareness. What does it mean for some among us to bedeck ourselves as opulent decoration while others freely gaze?
Liner has placed the objects of our gaze in gilded splendor. Photographer David Navala’s images of the models in their giant egg cocoons show them as they posed during the live performance at the exhibit opening early this month. Women dressed in a somehow Victorian-1960s style peer out of the peep windows built into their individual eggs, each wearing a pouty glare. They appear both bold and demure, a powerfully suggestive combination.
Liner’s gorgeous orbs come from a furniture building tradition. The year of labor the artist submitted to their design and creation is made evident by the material richness and sturdy execution of each. In answer to questions regarding the framework that forms these lavish eggs, the wooden skeleton of one “egg” is only upholstered to the point where the vessel meets a freestanding wall. On the other side of that wall is the gridded wood scaffolding that is under each of Liner’s elaborate ensembles.
When visiting the exhibit, be sure to watch passers-by catch Liner’s show through the bank of windows that line the Grand Center Craft Alliance Gallery. SLU students ambling to the north outpost of City Diner and families hurrying off to the Fox invariable stop and point before moving on. This was equally true of Ann Coddington Rast’s Flock exhibit that graced the gallery last spring.
The Craft Alliance gallery serves as a giant display case opening up the Kranzberg Arts Center. These optically sophisticated installations encourage dwell time for symphony and theatergoers. They also add to the grandness of Grand Center, an attribute that is no longer wishful thinking.